Where Librarians Lurk in Summertime

Maine Remains Amazing

I’m one who believes place defines one as much as experience. Growing up on Sennebec Hill Farm and roaming the 189 acres as well as countless hours in my tiny boat anchored off Turtle Rock left me with indelible images. Many of those have found their way into my Wizard of Simonton Pond books.

Back when Wolf Moon Journal was published, I wrote an essay about place that began as follows: “When you marry, you gain more than a partner. You acquire new relatives, different ways of thinking, new customs and family celebrations. All of these are more or less expected parts of a new blended life. If you are lucky, you gain some unexpected things as well. I gained new realms to explore, and so I did; hunting and fishing through parts of Maine that had previously been names on a topographic map.”

Certain songs from the 1960s and ’70s transport me to secret fishing holes or remote ponds, jet contrails take me back to a day when I had Sebec Lake all to myself, the brrrt of a logging truck coming into Hartland conjures up visions of distant dust trails in a sea of evergreens seen from a hill near the Golden Road..

Beth and I love Washington County. It remains beyond the range of most who visit Maine, leaving the roads and the beaches uncluttered. The people who live there are friendly, resourceful and make terrific hosts. I also have a great relationship with most of the librarians there, making visits to their institutions (and book sales) extra special. One of the best parts of a visit Down East is the serendipitous nature of conversations. These have led to discovery of shops, hidden beauties of nature and events on every trip.
We start by taking the Airline, more commonly known as Route 9. The highway acquired its nickname back when pilots used this ribbon of tar slicing through the wilderness as their guide between Bangor and Calais (distances were also measured in six-packs). These days it rivals I-95 for smoothness and comfort. If you’re heading to Machias or Cherryfield, the side roads through Deblois and Wesley save time and are very pretty drives. If you take the Deblois route between late July and early September, you can find wild blueberries aplenty growing in the ditch.
What’s worth seeing? We like hiking in the Moosehorn National Wildlife refuge. The main portion is in Baring, but there is another section down by Cobscook Bay State Park that has more great trails. Calais has a nice walk along the river where you can see an occasional seal and the historic site south of town overlooking St. Croix Island is a great stop.

Sarah has written about Eastport on numerous occasions, but I can’t not rave about the town. We were there on the 4th of July and it rocked big time. Dana Chevalier, the Eastport librarian is one of the people who inspired me to think of librarianship as an entrepreneurial venture. She inherited a struggling entity and turned it around. We try to hit her July 4th book sale whenever we can. The citizens have worked very hard to revitalize the downtown and it shows with an amazing number of co-ops, crafts stores and galleries. Ray’s Mustard is a must visit and there is Shackford Head State Park, Reversing Falls and simply taking the unexplored side road to see where it takes you.
Lubec is probably my favorite town. Watch the river for any length of time and you’re guaranteed a seal sighting. West Quoddy State Park has awesome hiking trails. Beth and I are avid photographers and the boardwalk trail gives us ample opportunity to catch insects, mushrooms, Baked Apple Berries and Sundews. The lighthouse has a nice historical exhibit and art gallery. There are miles of beaches and they are usually uncrowded.

Most towns in the area offer something on the Fourth. Daughter Sara runs 5K races, so she found one in Cutler. Beth and I went along to cheer her on and enjoy another very pretty Maine village. When we pulled into the driveway at the school so she could register, we watched a deer loping across the field beside the school. You can also see the array of towers that was the Bucks Harbor Air Force station from the 1950s through the 1980s. This was the 28th annual Cutler 5K on the fourth and featured runners from numerous states. Sara finished 25th out of some 60 runners.

If you have a passport, bring it. Campobello Island is an odd critter, Canadian territory attached to Maine by a bridge. We never tire of visiting it. The jewel is the Roosevelt Campobello International Park which features two cottages that were owned by our late president’s family in the early part of the 20th century. Imagine a 37 room summer cottage preserved exactly as it was in the 1920s. The gardens are beautiful as is the view of Eastport across the bay. The staff are friendly, well-versed in the history of the area and eager to answer any question you might have. This year we were able to partake of a new feature; Tea with Eleanor. Limited to 20, but offered twice daily, this sit down tea, complete with home made cookies was developed by two female staffers who thought Eleanor should get her due. While you enjoy refreshments and the ambiance of sitting where one of our most famous first ladies once did, two staff members tell you Eleanor’s story. They create a wonderful bit of living history in the process.
Across the road form the park is a gravel drive that leads to the south end of Herring Cove Beach, a mile long stretch that is also virtually people free. Just before you reach it, there’s another drive that leads out to a great viewing spot looking at Grand Manan to the east and West Quoddy Light to the west. It’s a great spot for photographers and is another seal and occasional whale spotting site.
Campobello has one of the best sea glass beaches we’ve ever found, but I’m keeping that location a secret. If you find it, you’ll see what I mean. East Quoddy Light is another photographer’s haven, but can be really dangerous if you choose to climb out to the light itself and neglect the speed of the tides. They rise and fall at the rate of 15 feet per hour and I almost got swept out to sea the last time I tried the hike.

Eastport, Lubec and Campobello all offer whale watch trips. They’re well worth the money. If you want to maximize your chances of seeing one, plan on going in August. We went on the 6th of July and did see a 30 foot Minke along with 50 or so seals, an equal number of dolphins. Ten eagles, puffins and razor-billed auks. The two Canadian gentlemen who ran the tour out of a small harbor by East Quoddy Light worked very hard to find that whale and were very friendly.
This post can’t do full justice to all the wonderful places and experiences waiting for you in Washington County, but I hope it whets your appetite enough to see for yourself. Every road can take you to your own personal discovery.

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4 Responses to Where Librarians Lurk in Summertime

  1. Deanna says:

    Thanks for the great ideas on where to go in ME. Maybe next year though. Dee

  2. Barb Ross says:

    I’ve wanted to do this trip for quite awhile, John. Now you’ve really inspired me.

  3. Shhhhh! Don’t tell everybody or they’ll all want to go there!

    Seriously, coastal Washington County is absolutely magnificent at this time of year. I can’t get enough of it.

  4. Beautiful and inspiring post, John — thank you!

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